Vieira uneasy at being centre of attention

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The Independent Football

Patrick Vieira looked nervous. Incredibly nervous. He delayed his answers, shifted in his seat, spoke constantly about the need for "focus". He meant on tonight's match. But he knew, back at Highbury for the first time in almost a year, that the focus was on him.

"I don't know," he said when asked about his time at Arsenal, his three Premiership titles and four FA Cups - the last of which was won with his final kick for the club - and how returning now with Juventus made him feel about it. "That is the past. I never want to talk about the past." But then Vieira did just that.

"When you spend nine years anywhere, and when you have won so much and did so well, because I think in the last nine years we did better than in the history of Arsenal Football Club and I was part of it, it makes you proud," the 29-year-old Frenchman said.

Maybe that was a defiant reminder to the fans. Vieira hopes for a friendly reception. He has no reason to fear otherwise although the first tackle, the first challenge on Cesc Fabregas - the precocious midfielder asked to take up his mantle - should provoke an interesting response from those who, until so recently, chanted his name. "I think I've got enough experience to deal with that," Vieira said. "I know how to prepare and what to expect."

Since joining Juventus for £13.7m last summer "the Arsenal page is over" and a new story is being written in Italy. There are, he maintained, no regrets. "No, I never regret any decision I make," he said. Vieira also left with the parting shot that it was with the Bianconeri that he stood a better chance of winning the Champions' League - which adds yet another dimension to the tie against Arsenal, as does his poor form.

After a strong start he has faded, overshadowed by the Brazilian Emerson and earned strong rebukes in the Italian media. Vieira knows he is not playing well, admitting his form is "up and down" before adding, "but what matters to me is the team performance".

But he will also have to deal with his emotions. Vieira said he will be able to shelve his feelings until after the game. But that is easier said than done. "I'm confident," he said. "We believe we are strong enough to win the game but we know it's not going to be easy."

His friendship with Thierry Henry - unsurprisingly singled out by the Juventus coach Fabio Capello as the danger - was also something he was not keen to discuss. "We talk about everything in general," he said of their frequent phone calls. "We talk about Juventus, Arsenal, life in Turin, life in London. We have a normal conversation." Will Henry be tempted to join him in Turin? "You are asking the wrong man," Vieira said.

He wasn't to be drawn either on whether or not the move had made him a better player. "I don't know," Vieira said. "You will have to tell me." It was defensive, circumspect stuff while, alongside Vieira, Capello was forced into a strident defence of another of his players, the striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose form has also been disappointing. "I believe it is Juventus playing tomorrow not just Ibrahimovic," Capello said of the questioning. "You ask me six questions about the same argument." Vieira, also, knew the feeling.

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